Carlos Betancur surges past Rui Costa to win Stage 6 in Fayence. The margin of victory created time gaps and first place brought a ten second bonus too. If he’d won the previous stage too, that was via a late attack on the descent to Rive-de-Gier that was a clever but not dominant move. Instead it was on the Mur de Fayence that Betancur took the yellow jersey and demonstrated he was the best in the race. This was the moment the race was won.
But if it was the race winning move, Betancur’s victory was not secured on one day. This year’s Paris-Nice route meant no definitive selection point in the race, no chance to open up 30 seconds, a minute or more.
Plus there’s the matter of arithmetic. The table above shows the total time bonus haul during the race. Betancur took 10 seconds more than Rui Costa but beat him on GC by 14 seconds and the final podium reflects more than the arithmetic accumulation of artificial time.
From Nice to Monte Carlo
Was this year’s course better? Let’s beware of any certainty here. The end result was a function of many factors so we could send the race down the same course again and again and different events would have happened. Statisticians call this a Monte Carlo simulation, running the numbers again and again and seeing what the results are.
For example the weather was exceptionally good this year, replay the race with crosswinds an the opening stages and maybe one of the podium finishers would have got blown away. Alternatively consider the numerous nervous crashes, again these could have turned out differently. Or what of the mechanical for T-J Slagter or Wilco Kelderman’s unfortunate puncture, both on Stage 6’s Mur de Fayence?
But the concept of running the scenarios again and again to see what could have been is instructive because if they’d finished on Mont Ventoux or had a 30km time trial – or both – then the finishing order would have been almost the same each time. I suspect this year’s course might not satisfy all fans because it didn’t give a perfect hierarchy.
Paris-Nice vs. Tirreno-Adriatico
It is a little dysfunctional to have two week long early-season stage races in March, it is bizarre that they clash. But the only people who are forced to chose between the two events are team managers as they select their squad. The rest of us get to enjoy double the action at the touch of a remote or in a new window.
But rejig the calendar and even if these races were spread apart many riders would not do both. Even if you let the riders chose the course they’d probably still plump for one big stage race in the month. Returning to the present day the clash is a problem, two races competing for attention but it’s not that fans don’t know where to turn, it’s that many can’t watch in the first place. And if only it was as simple as flicking the TV remote, in reality both races struggled for live coverage beyond their home markets and as usual you need more channels than Venice to follow the sport.
It’s interesting to note how these races have changed. Tirreno-Adriatico often featured a spikey stage but it wasn’t that long away it was being won by sprinters like Oscar Freire or classics riders like Filippo Pozzato and Paolo Bettini while Paris-Nice went vertical with finishes in ski stations and half-way up Mont Ventoux. Now Paris-Nice has the flatter route.
A French team hadn’t won the race since 1991:
- Ag2r La Mondiale rode very well. Bad luck saw Romain Bardet down but not out and Max Bouet abandoned with broken bones after an incident with a moto, Ramunas Navardauskas and Bardet. The brown short brigade had a great race and seemed united in a mission to win the race. Bardet describes Betancur as “a winner, a killer”, a sign that victory is a cultural acquisition for a team long used to scrambling for success
- FDJ had a great race too with stage wins from Nacer Bouhanni and Vichot plus the yellow jersey
- Europcar’s Cyril Gautier was sixth overall and tragically this matters to Europcar. By this I mean the have moved up to the World Tour are now condemned to chase points rather than dreams. So Gauthier collects points. With Thomas Voeckler still recovering from injury – and Pierre Rolland invisible in Italy – Bryan Coquard was left to pick up points. He was exceptionally quick in the sprint finishes, surging from 20th place to fifth in the final 250 metres. Fast but in the wrong place and he needs more support. Leadout man Jimmy Engoulvent is good but they need three more of him, second wagon in the sprint train was Bryan Nauleau, a neo-pro.
With each of these French teams it wasn’t long ago that they’d be firing riders up the road in the hope a break would stick but they’ve now got options for the hills and sprints and strategies to implement, leaving Cofidis and Bretagne-Séché to fulfil the traditional roles.
Lampre had a great race with Rui Costa all over the race. He’s collected six second places so far this year, if the rainbow jersey is cursed then the 2014 hex looks mild. José Serpa and Przemo Niemec were able in support and the whole team across all fronts looks far more coherent.
Team Sky had a mixed time. Geraint Thomas was very strong but had bad luck with a late crash. The rest of the team wasn’t so visible, when Thomas was in yellow he only had Lopez in support during the hilly parts. Lopez is worth two men but this year’s course was almost designed to disrupt Sky’s steamroller approach.
Here’s the list of prize money by teams. It’s no more but the prizes do reflect the way a squad got stuck in, for example Bretagne-Séché collects more than Tinkoff-Saxo (although of course the Danish team sent their A-Team to Italy).
From Nice to Sanremo
Now to look ahead. Statistically it’s rare that rider who completes Paris-Nice wins Milan-Sanremo but the causal factors behind this aren’t certain. So here are some thoughts on the riders getting ready for the classics:
- At first it seemed John Degenkolb took time to get going. Beaten in the sprint two days running he won at Magny Cours. A fine win but almost expected. If anything watching defend the yellow jersey on Mont Brouilly was impressive, the sharp climb is far harder than the Cipressa so he’s a contender to make it to Sanremo
- J-J Rojas had a good race, so regular you wonder why he didn’t win the points jersey. Rojas’ problem is consistency, he’s places more than he wins. Outsprinted in yesterday’s final stage by Arthur Vichot, the media asked the Frenchman how he beat a sprinter like Rojas: “Rojas, he often finishes second“. But such consistency translates into presence over 300km.
- We don’t know if Zdeněk Štybar is riding Milan-Sanremo but the OPQS rider is proving Mr Versatile. Tipped for Paris-Roubaix he was looking strong on the uphill finishes.
- It’s said RCS added Pompeiana in order to help secure an Italian win for Vincenzo Nibali. But even if the climb was there the Italian wouldn’t be in the mix. He’s a little short of form
A good week’s entertainment with variety and a fascinating course. It’s been a tiring week with a lot of kilometres to cover… and that was just writing the previews. If there was no big selection the repeated hilly finishes saw Carlos Betancur emerge ahead of Rui Costa and Arthur Vichot. Geraint Thomas and Tom-Jelte Slagter had bad luck but were the two willing to attack. Overall the strongest riders – and a new generation – came to the fore and the end result saw small differences that would only have grown if the race continued.
This week sees a series of small 1.1 races like the Nokere Course and the GP Nobili but everything is really about Milan-Sanremo and the start of the intense classics season and six weekends in a row of giant racing. Many of the names this week will appear again and Betancur, minus a couple of kilos, and Slagter are already names to watch for the Ardennes.